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Idiots and Angels
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by Jay Seaver

"Plympton's neither idiot nor angel."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Idiots and Angels" is Bill Plympton's new film. For fans of the artist and many animation enthusiasts, this bit of information is all that really needs to be said when it comes down to deciding whether or not to give the movie a look. For those who are less devoted, it's good Bill Plympton. For those who are less familiar with the man, well, there's the rest of the review.

Plympton's style should be familiar, even if his name isn't necessarily so: It is most definitely cartooning, with caricatured body types in two dimensions. Though at least partially created with digital tools, it still retains the look of being drawn with colored pencils, with a frequently low frame rate and a fondness for gags that are a little on the gross side. It's about as far from what Chuck Jones used to call "animated radio" as can be, with dialog frequently either absent or deliberately garbled. His last feature, 2004's Hair High, was something of a departure from this, with narration and several speaking parts. Idiots and Angels pretty much dispenses with words, so it's something of a return to form in that sense.

It follows a patently unpleasant man who smashes his alarm clock and throws things at chirping birds in the morning, and will happily threaten lethal force to take a favored parking space; he sells black market guns from in a local bar. One morning, though, he awakens to find bony stubs growing out of his back, and despite his attempts to cut them off, they eventually grow to become a pair of angel's wings. Soon everybody he meets is trying to exploit his unwelcome additions, which he would just like to be rid of, as they seem to have a disturbingly altruistic mind of their own.

There are a number of little bits in this movie that could be taken out and be the basis for funny animated shorts on their own, but the film is not just - or even primarily - a comedy. It takes place in a bleak world, full of film noir shadows and ugliness, and at times it's pretty nasty, even compared to the black comedy and sometimes bloody slapstick it plays with early on. Plympton does a nice job of riding that line, often introducing things with a laugh and then moving things into darker territory with just a tiny push.

The animation is impressive as usual, opting not for the clean style of a studio production, but for an idiosyncratic and surprisingly expressive style. There's only a half-dozen or so characters, but Plympton invests them each with a great deal of personality. The bar owner's wife is an especially great example of that; we first see her exaggeratedly fine figure, but it doesn't take long before her actual personality starts to emerge, even if it is periodically crushed beneath waves of disappointment and neglect. Plympton also does a nice job in varying his style a little when it's called for. For instance, as much as using fewer in-between frames often works for him, he also recognizes that certain types of flight must be smooth, and the contrast makes those scenes even more impressive.

Plympton has been getting a little more serious lately - between "Guard Dog" cartoons, he's also shorts like "Shuteye Hotel" as well as "Idiots and Angels" - and it suits him well. "Idiots and Angels" isn't quite the pure brilliance Plumpton's shorts frequently achieve, but it's unquestionably his, in a way that few feature length films can be.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17609&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/13/08 13:25:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Vail Film Festival For more in the 2009 Vail Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival For more in the 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2009 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
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